An excerpt from Pretty POISON, the first book in the Peggy Lee Garden Mystery Series.

Pretty Poison

Berkley Prime Crime

ISBN - 0-425-20299-2

Release Date: May, 2005


She wasn’t sure how long she stood there looking at the man. Her first impulse was to turn around and run out of her shop, screaming for help. But she was made of sterner stuff. Or at the very least, she was morbidly curious. Years of being a cop’s wife didn’t prepare her for this. But her background as a researcher made her push her emotions aside and take another look.

The man was face down in one of her attractive wicker baskets filled with anemone bulbs. It was part of the autumn scene she’d created, complete with scarecrow and pumpkins. He’d obviously fallen forward, dragging the scarecrow from its perch on the oak rocking chair. The straw figure looked forlorn, lying half under the man’s weight like some bizarre teddy bear.

She wanted to look away. She had her cell phone open but couldn’t get her fingers to press the buttons. The terrible picture mesmerized her. She felt like one of those people she yelled at who gawked at car accidents. She knew what she should do, but the connection between logic and motor function failed her.

The man could be a homeless person. Despite the best efforts of the real estate management group who owned Brevard Court, there were usually one or two of them hanging around. Although his clothes seemed too clean and his trousers had a sharp crease down the legs. There was also the little question of how he came to be in her shop.

The courtyard door was locked when she came in. She locked it after the last customer left yesterday. He didn’t come in that way without a key. The only other way in was through the back loading door. She wanted to check it. But she couldn’t get her feet to move any more than she was able to dial 911. 

He might just be unconscious. Peggy really wanted to think that was the case. There was only one way to tell.

She stepped carefully around the man on the floor until she could reach down and touch his neck. There was no pulse. He was as cold as last winter. There was some dried blood on his white shirt collar. It spread down his back to darken his suit coat and reached up into his hairline. There was a thin trickle of it on his right ear. Blood had pooled on the floor around him.

He definitely wasn’t one of the college students who worked for her. She couldn’t tell who he was with his face buried in the basket. And she knew better than to move him. How many times had John come home complaining about a disturbed crime scene?

But she couldn’t help noticing some of the same details John used to tell her after coming home from a call at 3 am. Caucasian man. Probably about six feet tall. Fairly athletic build. Light brown hair. She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes and there were no visible scars. At least not from her perspective. There was a white mark on his outstretched wrist that looked like he was used to wearing a watch. His nails were manicured.

She stopped cataloging his vitals when her gaze reached his feet. He was wearing black nylon socks but no shoes. She glanced around the area. There was no sign of them. She heard a key rattle in the back door. It was locked too. Not sure what to expect, her hand reached out for one of the rakes in the display.

“Morning, Peggy! How’s busi—geez! What happened?” 

Peggy looked up at her assistant. “I’m afraid he’s dead. Don’t touch anything.”

 Selena Rogers remained where she was, horror-stricken by the sight of the body. “How do you know he’s dead? Maybe he’s asleep.”

 “I touched him. He’s stiff and cold. He’s not ever getting up again.”

 Big blue eyes widened even further. “What happened?”

 “I don’t know. There’s some blood. I don’t think he died from natural causes.”

 “Did you kill him?”

 “Of course not! Don’t be silly! I don’t even know who he is!”




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